TOKYO — Battling its Japanese gaming rivals on their home turf hasn’t been easy for Microsoft Corp.
Its Xbox 360 game console runs a distant third in sales here behind Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 console and Nintendo Co.’s Wii.
But the Seattle-based company is armed with a new weapon — its new controller-free Kinect game technology — that it hopes will convince Japanese consumers to embrace the Xbox 360.
The company introduced the highly anticipated Kinect to the Japanese media Wednesday, touting its ability to broaden the Xbox’s appeal to the entire family.
Once known as Project Natal, Kinect stretches the concept of motion capture that propelled the Wii’s global success. But Microsoft eliminated the controller completely. Kinect relies instead on a camera system that recognizes gestures and voices, enabling players to control on-screen avatars in action and sports games simply by moving their own bodies.
“All you have to do is play (Kinect), or watch people play it,” said Takashi Sensui, head of Microsoft’s home and entertainment division in Japan. “It’s nothing you’ve seen, and it’s a brand new experience that I think a lot of people will be attracted to.”
Until now, the Xbox has been known as the device to play hard-core shooter games such as “Halo.” In the U.S., Microsoft ranks second in console sales after Nintendo, just ahead of Sony.
Microsoft has some catching up to do in Japan. As of last week, it had sold some 150,000 Xbox 360 console this calendar year, according to Media Create Co., a Tokyo-based gaming market research company. Nintendo sold about a million Wii units during the same period, while Sony sold just under a million.
Sensui said Kinect would help Xbox close the sales gap and maybe even surpass rivals “eventually.”
Microsoft said Kinect will launch in Japan on Nov. 20. It has previously announced that its global launch will begin Nov. 4 in North America, followed by Europe on Nov. 10.
Microsoft will release 10 Kinect-compatible games by the end of the year in Japan, including a brain-training game that requires players to use eye-brain-body coordination to answer various math and game puzzles. The game was developed with Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, who appears in a popular series of brain- training video games that drove sales of the Nintendo DS.
Kinect will be sold bundled with the Xbox or as a stand-alone system, which can be connected to existing consoles. It will cost $150 in the U.S. and 14,800 yen in Japan.
Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s games division, is scheduled to speak next week at the Tokyo Game Show, where the company is expected to make additional announcements.